The energy behind a music festival is one that's hard to explain. In my opinion, each one is different. Bonnaroo, a festival I attended in Manchester, Tennessee, could most easily be described as nothing short of magical.
On Wednesday night, 4 of my closest friends and I packed into our car and headed south. After 5 hours we reached the line to enter the campgrounds and 10 hours after that (yes, 10 hours later) we reached the tollbooths to set up camp.
The whole atmosphere of Bonnaroo was like nothing I'd experienced at a festival before. Sure, there were plenty of flower crowns, drugs, and tapestries hanging along tents, but it was the people that ultimately set this festival apart. We were greeted by our neighbors with warm smiles and chit chat, which implied that they actually were interested in our excursion to 'Roo'.
At around 7 pm, I headed into the festival for my first show of the night, Temples. I stayed for the first few songs, thankfully getting to hear my favorite “Colours to Life”. After getting lost a few times (the farm gets confusing at night!), I found my way over to the 'Other Tent' for Glass Animals. The Oxford based group had a great vibe, performing with the goofy stage presence they always seem to have. The band chose to play a 10 minute rendition of their alt. hit "Gooey", leaving me fumbling to sing the words at the right time and laughing until I cried with confusion. After listening to the closing song "Pools", we moved to Tove Lo. She wowed the crowd with not only her powerhouse vocals, but her “habit” of ending the show by flashing the audience. My night ended around 12:30 when I caught Mac Demarco's cover of, Steely Dan's "Reelin' in the Years", which was just as amazing as you might imagine.
On Friday the Tennessee sun woke us up early (which, by the way, is seriously killer). I started my day at Royal Blood, but left 3 songs in when I realized Soja was playing a few stages away.
The schedule for the day left me with tough decisions to make. I skipped Moon Taxi and Rustie for Dawes, and I even sacrificed the sets of Sylvan Esso and Guster so I could push myself as close to the stage as possible for my favorite underground rap group, Atmosphere. Slug hyped the crowd up by performing favorites including "God Loves Ugly, Shoulda Know" and "Fuck You Lucy".
We arrived at the main stage to wait for headliner, Kendrick Lamar, and even got to catch some soulful Alabama Shakes while we waited. After about a half hour of my group waiting anxiously for Kendrick, I made the decision to leave so I could jam to some 80's first wave at Tears for Fears (totally worth it by the way, these guys still rock). Plus, I still made it back to the Great Stage to head Kendrick open with "Money Trees". While I'm not much of a Kendrick fan, he really knows how to put on a show. The rapper played crowd favorites, debuted "i" and "These Walls" live, and did 2pac justice with his partial cover of "Hail Mary".
30 minutes before Kendrick’s set ended, we left to prepare ourselves for hip hop/rap duo Run the Jewels. We lasted only about 30 in the insane dance party of a pit before I made the decision to crowd surf out to my favorite song by the group "Sea Legs" and dance my way to Earth, Wind and Fire. The classic disco group shocked the crowd when Kendrick Lamar and Chance The Rapper joined them on their track, "Gratitude". From EW&F I went back and forth between the EDM groups for the night, but found myself happiest at Odesza, whose sunny dance tracks made me feel warm even as the temperature plummeted at night.
On Saturday I woke up just in time to catch one of my favorite groups at the moment, Catfish and the Bottlemen. Seeing the Brits for the first time perform in a sold out venue of only 300 to seeing them for a third time in a crowd of over a thousand was surreal. Lead singer Van made sure to constantly thank the crowd and let them know how happy he was to be there.
As the TN heat rose, I watched Phox perform while in my swimsuit from the famous mushroom fountain - definitely a different experience. The next few hours proved difficult as we tried to beat the heat, while trying to see Hozier, Bleachers, The War on Drugs and Jamie XX, whose sets just so happened to cruelly overlap. From The War on Drugs we watched Gary Clark Jr. (who I'd never really listened to, but am now a fan of) while we stood in line for my most anticipated artist of the festival, Childish Gambino.
At 9:05, just 10 minutes before the set began, security told us we weren't all going to be let in. We began to slowly walk towards the entrance to the barrier when a guard pointed to me and let me through- for once I was truly grateful I was born small and innocent looking. The crowd chattered, but was immediately silenced and then quickly filled with screams as the beat to "Crawl" began to play. The crowd went wild as Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) debuted songs off his recent mixtape, STN MTN, even bringing Kari Faux on stage to join him on their track together, "No Small Talk." Aside from playing his most recently released music, Glover played classics from Camp, Because the Internet, and one of his first mixtapes, Royalty. Glover even preformed a new song for the crowd, "Me and Your Mama", which was strictly sang- not rapped. He closed the show with his 'pop' hit, 3005 leaving the crowd buzzing.
The change of atmosphere from a Childish Gambino set to a Mumford and Sons set was probably one of the strangest. I went from pure excitement and happiness to a sudden feeling of lethargy and nostalgia. For this show I sat in the grass and let myself rest to the sounds of "Little Lion Man", songs from "Wilder Mind", and was pleasantly surprised when the band closed with a cover of The Beatles’ "With A Little Help from My Friends". As the song began the crowd erupted as members of Dawes, My Morning Jacket, Hozier, The War on Drugs, and Ed Helms 'helped' the band finish out their set.
The second Mumford ended Bonnaroo lit up. Full on madness broke loose as Bassnectar, Flume and D'angelo and the Vanguard -who blew my mind- performed. One thing that Bonnaroo has that no other festival has is the Superjam. Superjam is when a bunch of acclaimed artists get together and, well, jam! This year the stage was graced with the likes of Run DMC, Cherub, Zack Galifanakas (otherwise known as Alan from the Hangover), Pretty Lights, Chance the Rapper, among other legends. There were celebrity appearances, and covers of Naughty by Nature, The Police, Springsteen, and Notorious B.I.G. All in all the superjam, which went until the sun rose, is historic in the music world.
As exhausted as I was on Sunday, I was able to support my fellow Ohioans, Twenty One Pilots, as they had the whole crowd singing along to their recently released album, Blurryface. We caught MØ covering the Spice Girls and watched as Chance the Rapper made another appearance on stage with fellow rapper, Freddie Gibbs. I danced with strangers to "The Underdog" by Spoon and I cried tears of joy from a friends shoulders as I watched Florence Welch prance across the stage as she sang "Rabbit Heart (Lift It Up)". I was gifted the opportunity to hear she, Robert Plant and the *Sensational* Space Shifters perform a few Led Zeppelin songs, including one of my favorite songs of all time- "Going to California". I clutched my hand to my chest as Billy Joel sang out the final lines of, "Only the Good die Young" and I felt the warmth of the crowd around me, like a blanket reassuring me that everything was good, even if I did have to leave the farm in less than 24 hours.
My first Bonnaroo experience was pure magic. It was full of tears, laughs, and new friends and experiences that I'll hold with me for a very long time. This festival is the least corporate of any other that I've been to before and has taken up a special place in my heart. Bonnaroo focuses solely on the happiness of its attendees and shows an overall love and support of music, instilling the ideals of positivity and kindness in its campers. I can't wait until Bonnaroo 2016 so I can once again radiate positivity on the farm.